Sunday, July 21, 2019

Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise, at The Shed


by Dick Mac

OK, I wasn't going to say anything about this, but I can't stop thinking about it, so I have to write it down.

Raise your hand if you know any American-born Asians from Queens.

How about any Asian Americans from anywhere in the United States?

I have a few friends born in Queens who are of Asian descent.  I have nephews who are of Chinese heritage.  None of them speak with a Pidgin English accent.  When they speak, all of them sound like they are from the neighborhood in which they live.  Each, of course, has their own affectations (as we do), but none of them sound like dubbed voices from early-1970s kung-fu movies.  None of them.  Not a single one.

Imagine my surprise while sitting in the sweltering Shed, at Hudson Yards, watching the beginning of Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise to hear first an African American actor (a black guy), then a European American actor (a white guy) speak in halting faux Chinese-Hollywood accents.

Promoted as "A kung-fu musical co-conceived by Chen Shi-Zheng and Kung Fu Panda’s Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, with songs by Sia and choreography by Akram Khan," I had high hopes.  Sounds amazing!  Right?!?!?!?

Although I like to think I am sensitive to, and part of, the ever-growing movement to embrace the differences of American culture, I hardly think of myself as "politically correct."  I take no bullshit from bigots, but I pay attention to my own use of pronouns, race-based dialog, cultural imperatives, and other social dynamics.  I don't care what anybody else does (unless they ask me), because it's hard enough to learn right from wrong myself, and I leave it to others to blaze that path on their own.  None of this is about political correctness, it's about being totally fucking baffled.

A pidgin English accent?  Really?  Do American actors have to speak in halting, abbreviated sentences for any of us to know we are watching a show about Asian culture?

The story is a simple one:  family honor and tradition, children rebelling, avarice, violence, the now-very-popular brother and sister making out because they do not know they are siblings.  Pretty standard Hollywood stuff.  You will not lose the plot line.  Good luck, however, trying to figure out how the mother is supposed to have died while randomly convulsing on the stage, even though she is a totally fit twenty-something martial artist.

The choreography is a sort of "Sharks Versus Jets Takes Tina Landon on a Date" debacle.  In fact, the choreographer would have done the show a favor if he simply copied the classic New York dance routines of West Side Story and saved the faux-Tina Landon attempts for the bar scenes.  Instead, its a mishmash of embarrassing foolishness.  I always fear that I look this ridiculous on the dance floor!

The costuming was reminiscent of someone who knows nothing about New York, or New Yorkers, or New York fashion.  Early in the show, a main character appears in a bright orange two-piece number with a sheer cape/wrap/something, that she is wearing to a club (like Esther Williams in a bathing suit on acid). A nightclub!

I've been going to NYC clubs for a few decades . . . OK . . . many decades . . . and I've seen everything from total nudity to formal attire (including actual real-life royalty dressed impeccably and actual real-life queens dressed in the finery of angels).  Never have I seen anyone wear a bright orange swimsuit-style outfit with a sheer wrap.  Perhaps I've seen something like this worn as camp, but maybe not.  And it is possible that young women born in Flushing who can't speak American English wear outfits like this to nightclubs.  I guess it's possible and I am totally off-the-mark.

Regarding costumes, at least the teams of faux-Sharks and faux-Jets wore garments reminiscent of kung-fu movies, so there was something resembling authenticity in that costuming.

The choreography could have been fun and exciting, like choreographed battles in old kung-fu movies, but instead it was more like Broadway musicals.  Some of the dancers were incredible (not the lead characters), but the "dances" they danced were unimpressive.  In particular, the attempted Rockettes-style line in the first act was nowhere near as good as the dancing school recitals I attended when my daughter was 6-years-old.

The nightclub costuming and choreography in the second act were so embarrassing that I had to laugh quietly to myself.  Even at the height of mid-80s new wave camp nobody dressed like this, and even on a Janet Jackson tour nobody dances like this.

The Sia songs are very good.

The songs performed like standard Broadway duets were unremarkable.  Nothing to say about them one way or another.  Think "Somewhere" from the aforementioned "West Side Story" just not done as well. (I apologize for repeat references to West Side Story, but they should really have seen it before attempting this.)

What this show could have used was a book written by (or at least approved by) RZA and choreography by the actual Tina Landon.

I thought hopefully that some of the show's shortcomings might be worked out as the run progresses.  Come to find out, the show is nearing the end of its run, so all the improvements have been made.

It might get two stars out of five, but the venue itself is such a toilet that it barely gets one star.  The Shed is a great idea, and perhaps they will figure out how to use it; but it's just room after room of wasted space with poor access to facilities and refreshments, bad ventilation, and poorly installed seating.  It's almost as if someone held a meeting and said:  "We have unlimited funds and need to design a performance space, so let's hire someone who knows nothing about designing performance spaces."  OK, that's an exaggeration!  The Shed is nowhere near that nice.

If you watch the one-minute teaser at the link above, you will save yourself money and time and will see the best that the show has to offer (none of the video shows anything that happens on the stage).

Want some kung-fu homage with a New York connection?  Try: The Man With the Iron Fists, which got a 5.1/C+ rating but is leaps and bounds more fun than Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise!


Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Dear David Bowie:

by Dick Mac

Good morning!

Shortly after I awoke, I was on my phone poking around the virtual world that has become a disquieting part of reality.  I was reading this and that about rich people paying taxes and the borders and the word "motherfucker" and friends' travels and meals and relationships -- you know:  the important stuff.

David Bowie Is
David Bowie Is . . . 
I came across a post that directed me to my phone's App Store and I purchased the "David Bowie is" app.

Once I had it installed, I went through the process of getting it setup.

Must admit:  I thought it would be simpler than it was, but I should have known better.  After all, I was one of your first customers when you and Al Gore invented the internet in 1959, and I've always known that when you do something creative, it is never run-of-the-mill.

It was the crack-of-dawn (or as Cavebat likes to say: the Iggy-Butt-Crack-of Dawn), after all, and I wasn't yet at my best. Nonetheless, I got it running and found a bright spot (as directed by the application) on my bedside table that served as the setting.  I watched a bit and then it appeared right there in front of my pill bottles (yes, I am an older man now and have to take pills each morning) and under the little lamp left in that room by my daughter:  a portrait of you (not in the flesh) and a bunch of ephemera.  

At my bedside
OK, I admit it:  I actually moved my phone and looked at my bedside table to see if the items were projected there in some sort of holographic image from down that rainbow way . . . that we'd spend some time together . . . just me and you and your TVC15.

Alas, your magic only borrowed my bedside table to make it look like you were there beside me.

I ran out of time at that point, because the day had to start.  Get the teenager out of bed and off to high school, and all that.  Now it's almost time to work and I realize:  that's right, you're not really here. 

It's been about a year since I last wrote to you, and the lack of a response reminded me that you are dead.  You used to respond, but no more. Sadly.

So many people die.  It's always sad, of course, but no longer as debilitating as it was in the 1980s when really young people were dying of the plague.  These days, the sadness is for people who made it to old age and got to live full rich, lives.  So, the sadness isn't debilitating, it's the appropriate amount of sadness for the loss that's been incurred.

I miss you.

I know you keep releasing records and apps, and your fans and staff keep your memory alive, but I still miss you. It's just not the same.

Can you believe it's been three years since you released Blackstar?!?!?!  OMG!

As I mentioned earlier, my daughter is a teenager now (which means your daughter is also a teenager).  Boy, oh boy, what a challenge!  Still, who is luckier than us?

Christmas was fun:  we went to a brunch in Riverdale, then we went to Nobu for dinner.  Did you ever go to Nobu?  I don't recall you ever mentioning it.  Christmas dinner was fantastic: 8 courses over three-and-a-half hours.

I finally ordered the Loving The Alien box set!

Remember I told you about my collection of Apple Records 7" vinyl?  You don't?  I thought for certain I'd told you about it.  Well, it's almost finished.  I need a half-dozen more singles and it's complete.  You know how collections are:  just as you think you're close to the end, there is something that eludes you.

Oh!  It's your birthday!  Happy birthday, to you!

I hope it's not sad where you are.  Don't stay in a sad place, where they don't care how you are.

I like our little chats.

Everyone says hi!

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

2018 In Review


by Dick Mac


Some thoughts about the year just passed.


Women

Women need to take over the world, and during 2018 it started to feel like this might happen.

The phrase "Me Too" was first used in 2006 by a woman discussing sexual abuse.  It became a hashtag and larger topic in 2017 when an actress used it while describing her experiences of sexual harassment in the movie industry.  Since then, after centuries of sexual abuse, harassment, and slavery, (all of which continue as I type this), women spoke out even more vociferously in 2018 about the men who have abused them, and forced them to trade sex for work.  Every industry is being now affected by this movement, and this is a good thing.  Employers, managers, and supervisors  are no longer immune from exposure and prosecution if they use their authority to extract sexual favors.  So, although we must suffer scum like Susan Collins, we get to celebrate millions (billions) of amazing, talented women who now need to take their places in the spotlight of the world stage.  In our collective journey of women taking power, the midterm elections in the United States saw a number of women take seats during a decisive change in the House of Representatives.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

U.S. Representative-elect for New York's 14th congressional district.  After beating long-time machine-backed Congressman Joe Crowley, in the primary, @AOC is will be the youngest woman to serve in the US Congress, at 29 years-old.  She has arrived in Washington with promoting the agenda nicknamed the Green New Deal to address education, the environment, healthcare, immigration, criminal justice reform, the Middle East, election reform, and the criminality of the Trump Administration. She rightfully boasts the New Green Deal is as bold as the space mission.  If the Democratic Party doesn't turn on her, we may see her in Congress for a very long time.  Already, however, the machine has begun to undermine her by appointing Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), a fossil-fuels-funded congresswoman, to head the soon-to-be-revived climate change panel.  We can, however, probably expect the Democratic machine to undermine her at every turn.  When your party is led by the likes of Pelosis and Schumers and Clintons and Obamas, you cannot expect progress.  I'm doubling-down on my support of AOC and I hope you will too.

Billie Jean King

During her career, King won 39 Grand Slam titles: 12 in singles, 16 in women's doubles, and 11 in mixed doubles.  Although quietly active in social issues for many years, she went very public in January, in response to retired tennis player Margaret Court's derogatory remarks about gay, lesbian, and transgender people.  In 2003, King supported the renaming of the Australian Open's main court to the Margaret Court Arena.  When Court went public with her bigoted views, King hit the media circuit with a direct condemnation of her former opponent and insisted that Court's name be dropped from the arena.  Since then, King has been very public about her support of equal treatment under the law for LGBT people, and she has been a joy to watch.  While attending the US Open this year, we were floored by the reception she received during the Roger Federer match by simply stepping out of a suite, into the seats.  The reception was wild and she modestly and smilingly waved to the crowd for an extended period before stepping back inside.  King embodies the beauty and strength of a true American:  working hard, helping others, and standing-up for what is right.

The James Fields Jury

James Fields was driving his car through Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, after celebrating hatred at a white nationalist rally.  When he encountered a counter-demonstration by people who oppose his political beliefs, he rammed his car into the crowd, killing one person and injuring thirty others.  In December, 2018, a jury of his peers found him guilty of ten crimes, including first-degree murder, and recommended the sentence of life in prison.  Next up for Fields is his Federal trial on civil rights charges for which he is eligible to receive the death penalty.  For standing-up to hatred and nationalism, the jury that convicted him is one of the most important groups of people in 2018. Say her name: Heather Heyer.


Ariana Grande

At 25-years-old, she has endured a day at work that resulted in a bombing of her concert in Manchester, England, followed by the death of her collaborator and partner Mac Miller, followed by a very public and short-lived romance and engagement to Pete Davidson.  Through all this, she released an excellent record that includes the song "thank u, next." Although not a genre I generally consume, this song is much better than I would expect from someone so young, and shows a maturity rooted in a series of personal and professional experiences that nobody her age should have to endure.

Tree of Life Synagogue

Jews are under attack in 21st Century America, and it is happening amidst a dialog and tone that is suspiciously and frighteningly similar to 1930s Germany.

During Shabbat morning services, on October 27, 2018, at the synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Robert Bowers, a neo-fascist radicalized by Fox News and Donald Trump, shot and killed eleven people and injured seven others. It is the deadliest attack on a Jewish community in the United States.  Bowers was arrested.  Since he is white, however, he is not being charged with terrorism, because this is America and white people are rarely charged with terrorism, even when they are terrorists and commit crimes of terror.  The victims of the Tree Of Life Synagogue shooting are some of the most important people of 2018.

 Those killed were:

Joyce Fienberg, 75
Richard Gottfried, 65
Rose Mallinger, 97
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
Cecil Rosenthal, 59
David Rosenthal, 54
Bernice Simon, 84
Sylvan Simon, 86
Daniel Stein, 71
Melvin Wax, 88
Irving Younger, 69

Say their names.

Arsene Wenger

Long-time manager of Arsenal Football Club ended his tenure with the club.  Although he'd won 3 Premier League titles, seven FA Cups, and the FA Community shield 7 times, he was harassed by a well-organized group of Arsenal supporters who blamed him for the club's recent lack of silverware.  What these bone-headed supporters never acknowledged or respected was that ownership cut all spending for seven years after building a luxurious new stadium in North London, and he managed to keep the team competitive the entire time.  Wenger was brilliantly dignified while under attack, and deserved a much nicer departure than the #WengerOut scum afforded him.

During his time at Arsenal, Wenger was honored as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, and France's Legion d'Honneur.  He was Premier League Manager of the year three times, and once named World Manager of the Year.  Irrespective of his departure from Arsenal, Wenger remains one of the most important sports figures in history and one of very important people of 2018.

Forest Fires

In the last quarter of 2018, no fewer than 9 wildfires struck California, killing and injuring over 100 people and destroying over 20,000 structures.  If you listen to the average (stupid) American, this has nothing to do with climate change.  If you listen to the above-average American, including the scientists who know about these things:  the extreme nature and number of these wildfires is directly related to climate change. The United States, however, is a nation of climate science deniers and will do nothing about it.

Jamal Khashoggi

Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian journalist working for the Washington Post, was murdered at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul.  Both the Saudi government and the Unites States government delivered ever-changing stories and excuses for this journalist's death.  None of the stories were believable.  What is believable, and probably is the closest to the truth, is that the Saudi government, ostensibly led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ("MBS"), planned and executed Khashoggi's murder because they tired of his critical reporting.  What is also believable is that the current Administration of the United States has decided to simply agree to whatever MBS spouts as the truth. An employee of an American newspaper is dead and the United States is doing nothing about it.

The Immigrant Caravan

The United States has become a hot-bed of fascism and white supremacy under the leadership of the current American president.  At the top of the hate list is Hispanic Immigrants, followed by African Americans and American Jews.  In what has turned into a fiasco, a group of Central American immigrants in need of political asylum because they are living in extremely dangerous and dire conditions, publicized their migration to the American media (which by and large is controlled by fascists of varying degrees), so instead of it being a mission to safety it has become a circus and sideshow for the current American president and his overlords at Fox News to use as political capital.

Never one to miss a chance to rile-up the hatred steaming inside his "christian" base, the current American president has demonized this group of mostly women and children and turned most of the country away from our need to be providers of refuge, into a mob of debating fools ignoring the basic tenets of American goodness.  We are a nation of immigrants and we need to open our doors to these immigrants.  We need immigrants.  We need these immigrants.

Favorite Surprise Record Release:

Angelique Kidjo - Remain In Light

A brilliant, faithful cover of the Talking Heads' "Remain In Light" record.  If you haven't heard it, you owe it to yourself to hear her love and admiration, her talent and voice.

Honorable Mention:

Rescue

Twelve boys were rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand this summer with the help of (literally) thousands of people.

Bradley Wright-Phillips

Star striker for professional soccer team Red Bull New York, became the MLS player to reach 100 goals faster than any other player in history.  He also led his team to the best season of any team in MLS history, with 71 points, which garnered them the Supporters' Shield (best record in the regular season).  In spite of failing to win the MLS Cup, Wright-Phillips and his team provided the most exciting season of any team in the league.

Royal Wedding

The wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was held at St George's Chapel, England, with an estimated global audience of 1.9 billion.  They are human and they have their short-comings, but like some rich people (not all), they are active in charity work.  When people enjoy this level of privilege, all we can hope is that they be charitable.  They are.

Spy vs. Spy

Former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and daughter Yulia were poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok, in Salisbury, England.  Smart money is on the bet that Putin's gang of terrorists are responsible.

Euskadi Ta Askatasuna

Basque separatist group ETA announced they are officially disbanding after 40 years of conflict with Spanish officials that reulted in more than 800 deaths.

More Fire

A fire destroyed the National Museum of Brazil in Rio de Janeiro.  The loss of indigenous history is devastating.

Homosexuality

The Supreme Court of India decriminalized homosexuality.  Same-sex marriage cannot be far behind!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Boycott VISA


by Dick Mac

VISA, the credit card company, offers a card branded by the NRA (National Rifle Association).

The NRA promotes and supports unchecked, limitless private ownership of machine guns.  Machine guns are used only to commit mass murder and have been used in all of the recent school shootings in the United States.

One effective one way to stop the NRA is to boycott their corporate supporters.  If we boycott VISA, we send a message that the NRA is unacceptable to us.

Boycotts work - they always work.

#BoycottVISA


Friday, December 29, 2017

Holiday Greetings this New Years' Eve


by Dick Mac

In order to avoid offending the delicate sensibilities of "conservative" and "libertarian" Americans, for whom anything outside their realm of experience is unacceptable, I said "Merry Christmas" this season, as well as "Happy Holidays."

In reality, I have always said "Merry Christmas" and almost never said "Happy Holidays," but I added the latter to my repertoire to be part of this mysterious conspiracy from which I felt excluded. I even bought a box of Happy Holidays cards and wrote Merry Christmas inside!

I was feeling left out because "conservatives" and "libertarians" go on and on about how we all say Happy Holidays. In reality, every Christian I know says Merry Christmas and every non-Christian I know says Happy Holidays, or Shalom. It's always nice. I love this time of year, because people say nice things like that to total strangers, to each other.

Another phrase that "conservatives" and "libertarians" seem perfectly comfortable with, and have added to the lexicon, is "Grab 'em by the pussy." Not one "conservative" or "libertarian" I know has ever said it is unacceptable. They generally say that the author of the phrase only said it once and the liberal media has blown it out of proportion. Clearly it is not their pussies that have been grabbed or promoted for such grabbing. If it was their pussies being grabbed they might have more to say about it. Most conservatives are so hideous, however, that nobody I know wants to touch them, never mind grab their genitals.

I think "Grab 'em by the pussy" (instead of "Happy New Year") should be used by "conservatives" and "libertarians" for the rest of this holiday season, in order to show how supportive they are of the America they are making great again.

Now that's the holiday spirit!